The UK media has treated Black Friday as a news story due to it being a relatively recent and growing phenomena. The temptation to see the shopping frenzy as symptomatic of a new malaise in society should be tempered by the fact that it has been occurring in the USA for decades.
Black Friday has an obvious appeal to an economy that requires consumer spending for growth. Responses to footage of shoppers frantically trying to access shops will depend on how the individual feels about consumerism in general and, specifically, shopping. One conclusion that can be drawn is that Black Friday sits along other evidence of an imbalance in both the economy and people’s lives in relation to the activities of manufacture, consumption and service. There are obvious links between the three economic sectors (retail, manufacture/construction and service) just as much as there are connections between our activities of being productive, buying things and serving others. Having acknowledged the connections, it can be argued that over time, consumption has increasingly become the main past time in the UK as well as the basis for our economic growth. The success of advertising/marketing has meant that a world that produces more than enough to meet everyone’s basic needs sees a significant proportion of things thrown away in order to ensure choice. Marketing taps into the chemical interactions in the brain that create a sense of pleasure. Human impulse is taken advantage of to create a culture around shopping. Successive governments have changed laws and financial regulations to enable the culture to change more quickly.
One result of change has been a shift in people’s reported experience of Christmas. For some time set aside with family has always been a cause of unhappiness but, that aside, the emphasis on consumption throughout December on Christmas Day itself and into the sales has reduced levels of happiness. The deeper experiences linked to anticipation have been lost and not replaced. Advent as a term (often now Christmas Countdown) and a concept is disappearing which is an indicator of this deeper change.
John Henry Newman used to treat Advent in a similar way to Lent by going without things. The movement behind “Buy Nothing Day” have a different starting point but come to a similar conclusion: consumerism and consumption need to be balanced by other aspects in our lives.